Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pesach: Minhagim regarding chametz

Books with pages spread wide open, perched on balcony railings and shedding imaginary crumbs of not-kosher-for Passover food. Shelves covered in new paper, and masses of aluminum foil on kitchen counters and the stovetop. Signs on doors warning "Do not bring in hametz" - referring to leavened products - with several exclamation marks. All of these were signs in my childhood that Passover was approaching. Above all I remember the near-hysteria that overtook the women and girls in the house, which mounted as the holiday grew nearer while they, dressed in rags, pursued to the death every stain and crumb. 

I only understood the full depth of the madness created in people's hearts by this holiday when I watched my father and the man across the way standing balcony to balcony on the morning of Passover eve to scrutinize in the sunlight the leaves of lettuce that had previously sailed in the bathtub. As part of this essential activity, the two men - whose Passover chores consisted entirely of such washing of heads of lettuce, until the hametz inspection on the morning before the holiday began - made sure there was not the slightest suspicion of worms or other sorts of vermin on the leaves that were destined to grace the seder table as bitter herbs. When the examination was concluded to their satisfaction, they took clothespins and hung the leaves out to dry on the clotheslines.

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